Foster puts DUP in election mode by warning about threat of SF First Minister at Stormont
Just a tiny swing by voters in the Assembly election could result in Martin McGuinness becoming Northern Ireland's First Minister, DUP leader Arlene Foster has warned her supporters.
Addressing the party's special spring conference at the weekend, the First Minister claimed that having failed to make the breakthrough it wanted in the Republic, Sinn Fein will "do all they can to take Northern Ireland".
"A swing of only two votes in every hundred from the DUP to Sinn Fein would see Martin McGuinness become the next First Minister," she said.
SF would attempt to "shred and split unionist votes" and "capitalise on a new and untested leader of the SDLP and on the complacency of some unionists", Mrs Foster added, echoing the concerns of predecessor Peter Robinson in past elections.
"That would be bad for unionism and bad for Northern Ireland.
"It would take Northern Ireland in the wrong direction and send out the wrong message at this crucial time."
In a lengthy speech, which amounted to a pre-election campaign pitch, the former Finance and Enterprise Minister also set out her key priorities for the next Assembly term.
They included creating more jobs and increasing incomes, the protection of family budgets, prioritising spending on the health service, raised standards in education "for everyone", and more investment in infrastructure.
But Mrs Foster told activists gathered in Limavady that while she could "work with anyone" in the best interests of Northern Ireland, "make no mistake, Martin McGuinness and I have very different visions of the future of this country. I want to work with our national Government to bring about a better future, not against it," she said.
"I want to make sure that we remember the past, not rewrite it.
"And I want to make sure that we have a fair and balanced peace process, not one where some are more equal than others."
Power-sharing with Sinn Fein was "difficult" but a price worth paying to keep Northern Ireland moving forward, Mrs Foster insisted.
"But if you think it is difficult now, just imagine what it would be like with a Sinn Fein First Minister and the Executive dominated by republicans," she added.
However, she asked the party members: who could have imagined 20 years ago that Northern Ireland would become more famous for golfers than guns? "Who would have believed that our cities would be thronged by tour buses? Who would have believed that we could attract top businesses from across the globe to provide jobs for our young people, and who would have believed we could attract world-class sporting events to places people once feared to travel?"
Mrs Foster also hit out at Friday's bomb attack on a prison officer in east Belfast and warned: "We must always be vigilant against those who would seek to take us back to the past.
"But one thing is absolutely clear - no matter how hard they try, no matter what depths they stoop to, they will never, ever win."
And referring to the recent expenses revelations at Stormont, the DUP leader made clear that if politicians wanted to continue to lead "we must first make sure our own house is in order".
"That's why I want our party to set the standards in public life and not just to meet them. I want our members to know they are listened to and valued, and I want the public to get the best value from our political system.
"If, in the months and years to come, that means taking difficult decisions to help restore confidence in the political system, I will take those decisions," Mrs Foster said.